Although this 1994 made-for-TV drama omits portions of the Dickens classic, it captures the spirit of the novel and its themes: greed, poverty, cruelty, self-destruction, love, loyalty, and redemption. Sally Walsh is engaging as the long-suffering Little Nell, a 13-year-old who never complains as the fortunes of her guardian, a gambling-addicted grandfather, crumble. Her angelic face, with its winsome smile and innocent eyes, can earn the favor of even the most sophisticated viewer. Peter Ustinov, outfitted with top hat and cane, portrays Grandfather Trent with convincing desperation. While preoccupied with the welfare of Nell, he also preoccupies himself with the lure of easy money at the card table. He will do anything for Nell, but he will also rob the meager coins she earns for a chance to wager at a card table. Perhaps the best performance in the film is Tom Courtenay's as the villainous Daniel Quilp, a moneylender who dresses all in black, like a walking nightmare. Courtenay is so wicked, so corrupt that viewers may find themselves cheering when his riverside business catches fire. To director Kevin Connor's credit, the film does not resort to undue sentimentality as innocent Nell endures privation, cruelty, and illness. Although filmed entirely in Ireland, the motion picture has the look and feel of 19th century England -- its manners, its dress, and the sinister underbelly of its corrupt social system. The PG-rated film is suitable for the entire family.
by Mike Cummings review